Making Things Harder for LGBTQ+ Parents Makes Things Harder for Kids

Queer Parents, SCOTUS and Straight Parent Privilege

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When you or your partner was pregnant, did a social worker visit your home to make sure it was suitable for raising children? 

Did the social worker ask for details about how you conceived your child?

Did anyone ever ask you about your previous romantic and sexual experiences before your name went on your child’s birth certificate?

Did anyone run a criminal background check on you before your name went on the birth certificate?

If you answered no to most of these questions, chances are you, like me, are straight.

Being a straight parent comes with countless invisible and very real legal, financial and social privileges.

Much of this became even more clear for me last year, when I was swapping stories over Thanksgiving dinner with a friend of mine. While I had known my friend and her partner for a while, we had never talked about the day our kids were born.  

She told me something I hadn’t known before: After my friend and her partner had their son, she had to adopt him. This was in 2015, and as the non-birth parent of her son, she was not automatically recognized in New York State as her son’s mom.  

She told me more details of the story several months later. The feeling of anger and embarrassment when a social worker visited their home, and asked her about her past romantic and sexual relationships, including whether she had ever dated men.

She described other elements of what is called the “confirmatory adoption” process that some LGBTQ+ parents go through, and which vary from state to state. It can include undergoing FBI and criminal background checks, or collecting testimony from a doctor or reproductive health clinic that describes how your child was conceived.

My friend and her partner had to pay lawyers and the social worker who did their home visit to approve her fitness to be her son’s mother.

And my friend told me that her experience of having to adopt her son was a painful secret she holds, that her straight friends don’t know about. 

What my friend said over and over while we talked, was that the children who are born to queer parents, including her own child, “are so wanted.”  

Yes, straight folks who want kids and can’t have them face stigma and shame, and a lot of real pain and sadness, as well as the costs of adoption, fertility treatment and surgery. Layer on top of that the legal hurdles and large-scale social discrimination and isolation that LGBTQ+ families face.

This conversation with my friend was going through my head a few weeks ago as the Supreme Court issued a ruling in a case that directly affected LGBTQ families: Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. 

What was at stake in the case was this: the City of Philadelphia withdrew its contracts with Catholic Social Services, because the agency refused to license LGBTQ+ couples to be foster parents. 

In June, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of Catholic Social Services, saying that Philadelphia violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment by trying to revoke their contract. 

Here’s the thing: same sex couples are seven times more likely to foster a child than different-sex couples, according to data from the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law. 

So this ruling has significant implications for those families, and even more, for foster children. There are not nearly enough available homes for kids in foster care.

I spoke with Dakota Fine, a member of the communications team at Family Equality, an organization that works on behalf of LGBTQ+ parents and folks who want to form families, providing legal advocacy, resources and community support. The videos he created around the Fulton case tell the stories of social workers, families and young people with a stake in the ruling.  Here’s just one of the pieces he made:

Family Equality’s official statement called the ruling a “loss for the City of Philadelphia.” But, the group said, the ruling was narrow and will continue to allow local governments to prohibit discrimination against gay families.

“Today’s decision once again affirms that state and local governments can maintain laws that protect everyone—including LGBTQ+ youth, families, and prospective parents—from discrimination in government services,” Family Equality’s statement reads.  

This case, even though it’s a narrow decision, could still have a “chilling effect” on families who were seeking to foster kids, Fine said. The consequence of this is that there will be a smaller pool of families for kids in the foster care system.

“Tens of thousands of young adults age out of the foster care system every year without having found a home,” Fine told me. LGBTQ+ prospective parents are “ready and waiting with safe and loving homes for these kids.”

Family Equality has recorded countless examples of LGBTQ+ prospective parents who have faced outright discrimination, been rejected or dealt with bigotry throughout the adoption process.

“What is much harder to quantify is the folks who get rejected the first time and then turn away and never seek to adopt again, fearing further rejection,” Fine told me in follow up correspondence. 

This is particularly true of LGBTQ+ people who are from marginalized backgrounds or who don’t have the money to pursue surrogacy or IVF or other costly fertility treatments.

The concern then is that, having been rejected by an agency once, a significant number of people who are willing and ready to care for children will not try again.

“We lose them forever, potentially,” he said. 

“LGBTQ+ parents are disproportionately ready to adopt,” Fine told me. “Making things harder for LGBTQ+ people is making things harder for these kids. That’s it.”

Photo credit: "Gay pride 486 - Marche des fiertés Toulouse 2011.jpg" by Guillaume Paumier.